A Salt Lake man charged with killing a 2-year-old boy he was tending while the boy's mother was at church was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on a second-degree murder charge.
Experts testified that 2-year-old Paul Eugene Watts, son of Jennifer Watts, 20, died after receiving at least seven blows to the head on Feb. 10. Third Circuit Judge Philip Palmer said he heard enough probable cause Wednesday to set trial for Michael D. Lane, 28, of 270 E. Wilson Ave., in the homicide.The case was bound over to district court, where Lane will be arraigned before Judge Dennis Frederick on March 18.
State Medical Examiner Sharon Schnittker testified the child received at least seven "blunt trauma" blows to the head and said such forces could have come from a clenched fist, a foot or from swinging the child into a surface.
She also found "slight evidence" of suffocation and additional evidence of child abuse during the autopsy. Schnittker testified the child had bruising on his buttocks that was from five to seven days old.
Schnittker also said the toddler had received a "forceful blow" to the lower back of the head that left an imprint from the child's shirt collar. "I think it would take quite a bit of force for clothing to hit the skin so that it would actually cause an imprint of the patterning," she said.
The child's mother said she does not know who injured and killed her son she called "PJ." She described the defendant as her best friend and said she continues to speak with Lane nearly every day from his jail cell. The couple had been living together for about two months before the death occurred.
Watts said Lane changed the boy's diaper, dressed him and fed him breakfast Sunday morning before she went to church. She returned home about 1:30 p.m. and both the child and Lane were sleeping. Both had apparently been sick and weren't feeling well, she said.
She testified she looked into the room where PJ was sleeping three times before she decided she should wake him about 5 p.m. She said Lane had told her he had put him to bed about 11 a.m.
"I looked at him and I said his name and I touched him," she said, fighting back tears. "Once I knew that PJ was dead, I screamed and went into the living room. All I could do is scream and point to the room."
Lane went into the bedroom, then returned and called 911.
It wasn't until the next day that Watts told police detectives that her son had fallen and hit his head on the coffee table the morning before she left for church. She said the boy was playing on the couch when he fell backwards onto the floor, hitting his head on the edge of the coffee table.
Schnittker testified that such a fall would not cause a life-threatening injury.
Tammy McDaniels told the judge she lived with the defendant and Watts for a month before the baby's death. Although she used to be Watts' best friend, she said, they no longer get along because they don't agree about the cause of the boy's death.
Salt Lake Police Detective Robin Howell admitted there was no physical evidence that Lane killed the child. Lane told him, however, that he was the only one in the house with the child that day. During taped interviews, Lane never admitted striking the child and said he had not seen any other injuries on the boy.
Palmer denied defense attorney Charles Loyd's motion to reduce bail for Lane. Deputy county attorney James Cope argued that there was a "profound opportunity for witness tampering."